The Creativity Cure

A do-it-yourself prescription for happiness

(How To) Be a Calm Person

Fourteen methods for mind over matter



I was never calm. In fact, relaxation exercises made me tense because I was killing myself to comply and do them right. When people tell you to be calm, it is like some random person telling you to smile when a bomb just went off in your life. It does not feel good.

If you have just been assaulted by bad news or are a chronic worrier how are you supposed to be calm, cool, collected, and breathe? For me, breathing just never seemed like enough to turn tension to tranquility. Like a wisp of air trying to blow out a huge flame.

I never, ever thought I would be the person answering this question for myself or anyone else. But when I was blindsided by something a few years ago, none of the usual remedies helped. Concerned that maybe my plight was worse than some of the people I treat, I knew I had to figure this out. I had to get calm. There was no choice. 

First of all, to Be a Calm Person in general can be an easier goal than calming down in a singular crisis. That’s because it involves small steps over time rather containing a catastrophe with a panicky mind. If you have no former experience with moving your mind to a serene place it can feel impossible to gather yourself. Building the skill beforehand helps when difficulty hits.

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Small steps pack a big…I was going to say punch, but l will say remedy. Consistent baby steps with a bit of stretch are the best method for True Change (internal, solid, real, lasting) in most endeavors. Practice the new habit over time so it becomes part of you.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” (Aristotle)

Even if you can only spare five minutes, use it to stay in touch with your self as a gathered soul. The point is to not lose your connection, however fragile or loose, to the calm self that is being created. Hold on to the effort and the belief that you will become such.

I have to tell you that I have been crazy and I have been calm and calm is better.

How to Be a Calm Person: 14 Methods for Mind Over Matter

1. Immersion: Do a yoga or meditation class 4-5 days a week for one month. Why? Immersion helps you master something deeply, quickly. If you like it, it’s yours.

My yoga teacher Patricia Fischer Donahue, owner of Riverstone Yoga, told me to give the practice 21 days. After that, it becomes a well-honed strategy and part of your natural being. (I avoided yoga forever and now I’m hooked because it actually works. These are scientifically proven methods for reducing anxiety, depression and PTSD)

2. Conjure calming Imagery. One friend likes Falcor the dog-like, father-like, flying fluffy dragon in the children’s movie The Never Ending Story. Another friend imagines herself with wings when she is pushed around or deflated.

3. Let yourself take Naps. I saw a sky blue sign with happy red letters that said, “I Like You and Naps.” It was on Pinterest. Sleep is good for creativity and calm. The unconscious mind can sort through confusions at rest. 

4. Remember, it isn’t you. Well sometimes it is, but if you are to blame, I am going to assume that you have figured that out already. If you read Psychology Today, you are probably psychologically minded, and able to take responsibility for your issues.

Sometimes there is a sick person and a not-sick person in a conflict. If the sick one is sadistic and shooting disturbances into you (this is called projection) you must give this angst back to them. Don’t make it yours by engaging. Rather Give the Mess Back by detaching so they can deal with it and get better. As one client declared to a devilish relation, “I can no longer be the receptacle for your unwanted characteristics.” In short, don’t get suckered into a regressive battle and allow the baseness of the other to infiltrate you.

5. Observe, detach and choose to Go Your Own Way as in the Fleetwood Mac song. Listen to the Fleetwood Mac song. Or the song from The Never Ending Story, which cheers as well as calms. Ride the good dragon. Let go of upsetting relationships even if you thought you were pinned for life.

6. Listen to Music That Calms. You have to pick the pieces. What did you love as a child? My husband sings James Taylor’s You Can Close Your Eyes to my kids and they protest if he sings anything else. I like Janet Baker’s low mezzo version of Shubert’s Litanei, (took voice lessons long ago) Chopin Nocturnes, and many songs from the sixties and seventies. You might consider instrumental if lyrics rev you up too much. Save that for another time.

7. Get Into the Right Setting. Beach? Woods? A café? Know your deceleration setting. If you can’t get there now, plan for later. Dreaming, drawing, collaging and writing about this place keeps it real and reachable. Take a walk in a park. Hide in a quiet corner for Ten Mindful Minutes (Goldie Hawn wrote a great book by this name.)

8. Deal with Clutter. I’m not kidding. Expulsion of extraneous and bothersome stuff is freeing. A clean space, if not next to godliness, is next to calm-liness. Then again, sometimes disorder delights. Compare disarray to clear spaces and see how you feel, but get rid of bits that make you wince.

9. I once heard someone say that Haste is a Form of Violence. I would add Toward the Self. Fast pace may be a must, but think of how you feel when someone bangs on your door when you are trying get your contact lenses in. Your heart races, your hands shake, and your mind turns mean. Living every moment with tension can take a toll over time. It can make you ill. Honor Slow is Beautiful, as I once saw on a button, when you can. Maybe stay in pajamas on Sunday. Someone told me the whole family did this spontaneously one day and it was better than the last vacation. 

10. Think; There is Time. Poet T.S. Eliot wrote, "Indeed, there will be time…" Ok, you have figured out what you want to do and who you are. Now instead of having 80 years ahead, it is looking more like 30. You panic, thinking you do not have enough time. You do.

There is always time to inhabit a state of mind. Just calmly, step by step, little by little, work daily at what you love, even if it is just for ten minutes. Do not let go of the kite string to your passions because you think you do not have time. It is the consistent connection to something transcendent that keeps you afloat and calm. (It is different if one truly has not much time to live. That is a heartbreaking matter)

11. Shake it up to Get Peaceful. If you are an intense, type A person, then go for it with gusto. Wearing yourself out and knowing you did your all is one path to a peaceful state. Also, get comfortable with loose ends. All will get done because you are a reliable person.

12. Is there something you are meant to do that you are not doing? Community service, a class, a relationship, an art form? Live in Your Natural-Inclination Zone to avoid chronic agitation. Do not overinvest in draining interactions whether they involve narcissistic colleagues, the wrong job or neighbors who threaten to sue. Best to put your energies toward people and projects that speak to your heart and calm your mind.

13. Lower the bar. Go For a Five Out of Ten. My son used to get into trouble for always trying to be the first in line so we told him to think of the middle or the back as an excellent place to be. Sometimes the low-key place is just right if you are trying to learn. My daughter told me she wanted to join a swim team that lost matches so there would be no pressure and she could swim for fun. 

True prowess is a source of satisfaction but got-to-get-to-the-top stress is not for everyone and in fact may stop a talented person from finding her or his way.

14. Use Your Hands. Cook, bake, clean, repair, craft, play, paint, weld, scrapbook. Have you seen the book Craft to Heal by Nancy Monson? My husband Alton and I were honored to speak for Vogue Knitting Live and The Craft Yarn Council . 

 

There is a relationship between handiwork and  wellness. Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson, author of The Relaxation Response found that knitting lowers heart rate, blood pressure and stress. Your hobby or hands-on work may save your life or the life of others.

Yesterday Alton told me that he is most calm when operating. He is a hand/shoulder surgeon. He hurries me off airplanes, which might be a good thing. I just don’t see the point of rushing, as you still have to wait at the baggage claim.

Calm people succeed because they have backed out enough from the fray to know their own minds and make intelligent choices about living. It may be that they can very well keep pace. ….Remember Thoreau?

 

If a man does not keep pace

With his companions

Perhaps he hears a different drummer,

Let him step to the music he hears,

However measured or far away

 

But choose not to do so. Join the fold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carrie Barron, M.D., is a psychiatrist and co-author of The Creativity Cure: A Do-It Yourself Prescription for Happiness, which she wrote with her husband, Alton Barron.

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